By Tom Maston at the Etihad Stadium
With thrilling counterattacks, dominance from Vincent Kompany and the odd moment of brilliance from Joe Hart, Manchester City's 2-1 win over Liverpool may well have seemed like yet another routine home victory for Manuel Pellegrini's men. This, however, was anything but.
Brendan Rodgers' side were by far the most organised outfit to visit the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League this season, and with Luis Suarez's ability to unlock a defence at will meaning the attacking threat was constant, the way in which City ground out the result will go some way to further underlining their Premier League credentials.
In a season where the title race is so much closer than any in recent memory, many have pointed to City's attacking play, especially at Eastlands, as the difference between them and the other challengers. But having put in this kind of display and shown that they can add some grit to their obvious glamour, there may well be a few nervous onlookers in Merseyside, London and at the other end of town.
|VIEW FROM THE ETIHAD STADIUM
|By Tom Maston
On another day Liverpool may have left Manchester with at least a point, but when you fail to take your chances and your goalkeeper makes an error on the cusp of half-time, then you can have no complaints.
Brendan Rodgers may point to Raheem Sterling's wrongly ruled-out goal, but in truth his team had enough chances to equalise in the second half.
For Manuel Pellegrini and City, the hard work starts now. They sit second having played the rest of the top eight at home, and though their 100 per cent record at the Etihad Stadium may remain until the season's end, their indifferent away form must improve if they are to beat the big boys on their travels.
Kompany was at the heart of everything City did well. He neutralised the threat of Suarez in a commanding display at the heart of the defence while causing numerous problems himself as the hosts took command of attacking set-pieces. His leadership in encounters such as this cannot be downplayed.
Granted Alvaro Negredo's winning goal showed City at their attacking best, with pace and crossfield passes almost impossible to defend against. But with Sergio Aguero absent and Liverpool looking to push forward themselves as much as possible, they were forced into a more patient style of play. On the whole it proved just as effective.
Fernandinho and Yaya Toure eventually gained supremacy in the centre of midfield, and the tireless work of Negredo ran the visitors' defence as ragged as Suarez would have hoped to have done at the other end of the pitch.
The task of City and Pellegrini now is to make sure this kind of performance remains readily available to them as and when they need it. Too many times already this season they have struggled to break down lesser sides on their travels, and more displays akin to this one earlier in the campaign would have seen them clear at the top by now.
But instead they have made things difficult for themselves as they head into a second half of the season having to play six of the remaining top eight sides away from home. Coming from behind against a fellow challenger in a battling manner will only breed confidence that they can pass these tough assignments. This was a win they genuinely needed.
Given their fixtures, City's home record should remain intact for the foreseeable future, and no doubt they will continue to show enough attacking fervour in those matches to stock all 20 sides in the league.
But titles are not always won by the side who entertain their supporters the most – Arsenal will testify to that – and battling three points are the foundations on which certain dynasties have been built in recent years.
Pellegrini and City may well have just added some stability to what was an attractive but slightly flawed title push.